What’s wrong with Argentina?

What’s wrong with Argentina?

The Argentine national football team is a team that has earned it’s right to be called one of the superpowers of world football.  The 2 time World Cup winners and the Copa America 14 times, they have blessed the world with arguably some of the best talents in the history of the game such as Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona, Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Gabriel Batistuta, Leo Messi among many others, However in recent years something has not been quite right with the Albiceleste as they are affectionately nicknamed.  They have reached 4 out of the last 5 Copa America finals and reached the World Cup final in 2014 in Brazil, for any other another country this would be seen as disappointing but still successful.  However for Argentina anything other than winning the title is seen as a failure, the beautiful football played in the games leading to the final means nothing if you do not win it all.  This raises the big question after the recent 2-0 loss to Colombia in their opening match at this years Copa America, what is wrong with Argentina?  This problem was not an overnight problem but something that has been simmering for some time now.  Generally, fans are happy with the 23 selected but they look like a team devoid of confidence, chemistry and the over-reliance on Messi when the pressure gets tough continues to plague this team.

After lots of discussions with experts, we attempt to break it down into 6 reasons.

1.) The Shadow of Maradona

Maradona has almost God-like status in his homeland and rightfully so. He represented the struggle many faces and can relate to, growing up in poverty to go to footballing greatness and carrying Argentina to glory in 1986. He brought pride to a nation and was beloved by all. His fall from grace and his questionable lifestyle choices are well documented but the manner in which he succeeded is hard to deny even for the fiercest rivals. In an interview with former England international Terry Fenwick who was on the field when Diego scored the goal of the century against England, he was full of praise and respect. An admirable trait considering the hostilities between these 2 nations.  This success came at a price, the desire to see a successor to the legendary number 10 has been a curse on the players who donned the jersey so far.  Ariel Ortega, Pablo Aimar, Juan Riquelme and now Leo Messi wear the jersey and with it the expectancy of a nation to replicate the form of Maradona.  A role that has seen many of them fall with the burden of this unfair expectation. Leo Messi is not the first number 10 to bare this burden and despite getting to several finals playing wonderful football. The often harsh and unrealistically high standards of measuring success that Argentina has set for themselves seems for now to be a curse and the shadow of Maradona continues to loom over this team in a negative way.

2.) The Death of the Pekerman System

The Argentina youth system was once the envy of the World, they won 6 Under 20 World cups in total. The real dominance began when Jose Pekerman was hired in the ’90s. An odd choice but he revolutionized youth development and the results came. He oversaw 3 World Cup victories that were praised for their beautiful football and complete dominance. Players like Riquelme, Saviola were praised and he singles highhandedly changed the negative perception that was wrongfully attached to Argentine football.  His system leads to coaches like Hugo Tocalli and Marcelo Bielsa being appointed.  Hugo winning 2 more titles back to back and once again incompletely dominant fashion. Then another golden generation was born which included Leo Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria.  It seemed that the system was perfect and they were developing players are a highly consistent rate. Then all that changed when Diego Maradona was hired to coach Argentina, the system that was once operating like fine clockwork was completely discarded and the personnel involved in creating such a great system where gone.  Pekerman went on to work with Colombia and the improvement was immediate.  Argentina as a result of all its previous work was able to continue to perform at a high level but after the 2007 generation, it was clear the destruction of the Pekerman system and the “Pekerboys” was being felt.  Argentina is not producing players in all positions like before and the country is now resorting to shipping out raw talents at a very young age and as a result of the lack of a proper developmental stage, they are not becoming the full product that their predecessors were. The end result is that they no longer have a very intentional system of growth but a team that has to now build a new cycle from scratch.  As a result, we see the disjointed and messy transition from the last generation to the next unfolding before our very eyes.

3.) Corruption

This one is the most obvious. The Argentina Football Association and by extension FIFA have been riddled with controversy and corruption allegations.  The AFA is no exception, so displeased Leo Messi was with this that the team threatened to boycott the Copa Centenario in 2016 held in the United States.  Favoritism, financial irregularities, bizarre coaching appointments and player exclusions have baffled the average fan who may not have insight into the game outside what they see on television.  A football organization that is on the surface highly successful and attracts massive endorsements is now allegedly in financial chaos. Rumors that Leo Messi among others chip in from their own personal accounts to assist in paying staff have been circulated.  As a result, the preparation and running of the organization are at an all-time low.  Current president Nelson Tapia is currently in charge and has been tasked with taking Argentina back to glory but even he is looked at with raised eyebrows.  The “New” FIFA  president Infantino has not convinced many and is also not strictly just an Argentina problem but a much wider topic for another time.  Sadly the outcome of the mishandling of funds, personal agendas the national team suffers and the talents of the players over recent years masked the general public to the utterly disgraceful way the association was run.  Now the AFA hires inexperienced coaches like Lionel Scaloni not because they necessarily choose to but because they simply cannot afford anyone else.

4.) Coaches, Bizarre squad selections and tactics!

Where do we even start? Argentina has a history of making bizarre selection choices when it comes to coaches, squads, and tactics.  We even did a Top 5 Argentina player World Cup omissions due to the too numerous times the coaches have got it wrong. I think it’s hard to argue that Argentina has lots of World-class players and you can only select 23 but the ego, arrogance and apparent incompetence in leaving out certain players have left Argentinian and world football fans in complete shock.  Leaving out Redondo and Canniggia because of their hairstyles in 1998, not picking Saviola and Riquelme in 2002, leaving out Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti and Walter Samuel in 2006,  in 2010 calling up Palermo and Ariel Garce  while dropping Esteban Cambiasso and Zanetti who just won the treble and were in the form of their lives, Carlos Tevez 2014 and so many more!  Passarella, Bielsa, Pekerman, Maradona have made decisions that definitely keep Argentine fans up at nights wondering “What if?”

In 2006 when Argentina was in total control against Germany removing Juan Roman Riquelme out the game threw Argentina off balance which allowed the Germans to equalize and win on penalties. A decision that continues to baffle many to do this day. Also making matters worse was leaving a very young Messi on the bench.  In 2014 World Cup final, removing Lavezzi from the field immediately destabilized the midfield of Argentina who were creating chances and gave Germany sufficient breathing room to go on and snatch a 1-0  win with essentially their only chance of the game. Also, the one that possibly is the most popular, Gonzalo Higuain was given multiple chances and failing Argentina when it mattered most three times! The current popular complaints about the current squad is that they are overly reliant on older players particularly Lionel Messi and have held on to them too long. The truth is this point could be an entire book on its own but this is just the tip of the iceberg of self-inflicted wounds made by these coaches.

5.) Bad luck

So yes we have been quite critical of Argentina in this post but there is a factor that is often not discussed when trying to figure this team out.  Whether you are superstitious or not it seems bad luck is the story of Argentina, this is not uniquely a trait associated with Argentina as I am sure Netherlands and England can probably stake a claim to this dubious title.  It is very difficult to argue that Argentina has played some of the most beautiful football yet miss out in some of the most dramatic and heartbreaking of circumstances. Only a true cynic would say otherwise.   Argentina are very rarely eliminated in a straight forward manner. The amazing goal by Dennis Bergkamp in 1998, the complete dominance of the field in 2002 but they simply could not score goals even though they scorched through qualifiers.  2007’s Copa America final a cruel deflection that came off arguably one of the best center backs of his general Roberto Ayala,  Dominating the Copa America in 2004 and even though they outplayed Brazil for the majority of the game a fortuitous and desperate shot from Adriano snatched an equalizer which denied Argentina glory again.  After the 1986 World Cup Argentina have lost 7 finals, 2 World Cup finals, 4 Copa America finals, and a Confederations Cup. What makes these losses even more agonizing is that Argentina played some of the most stunning football with maybe the exception of 2014 to then simply be denied at the last hurdle. It is almost cruel because in spite of the pain it gave fans the hope, hope that it can happen next time.  A next time that seems will never come anytime soon for Argentina fans.

6.)The Messi Dependency!

The one that everyone is talking about, the complete reliance on Lionel Messi to carry this team on his back. The expectations and criticisms of Leo Messi border on purely moronic at times, the media today perpetuate the Messi vs Ronaldo comparisons to the point it has created a highly toxic new era of fans.  Messi has been a major contributor to Argentina getting too many finals with the senior team yet his accomplishments are swept aside because of some notion created by the media that in order to be the best he needs to win an international title.  The statement that Argentina is Messi and ten players of inferior quality is also a very inaccurate one and only lazy journalists and people who do not do their research would make such comments.  If Gonzalo Higuain scored in those 3 finals we would be having a very different discussion right now. This conversation, however, is about Messi and how the recent Argentina national team when things look rough they seem to shut down and look to Messi to be their savior, putting the entire burden of the team on him.  To his credit, he has done so many times but when the entire team freezes like a deer in headlights, Messi now has to drop deep, create and score. It is simply unacceptable for a team with the players Argentina boasts to be displaying such traits.  Scaloni’s new team was theoretically built to be players who don’t rely on Messi and can be part of a team rather than simply just giving the ball to the Barcelona man.  This inability to take responsibility is a huge problem and as stated before the argument that Argentina does not have the ideal supporting cast is a valid one but not entirely accurate at times. We are seeing the same thing are Barcelona after Xavi and Iniesta left Messi has single-handled bailed his team out and took them very far in the Champions League only to see the other 10 men simply switch off.  Admittedly this current Argentina team seems a bit more balanced than the one at the World Cup but they are going to have to step up it up significantly if they want to have a good tournament.  In many games, you see when Messi passes the ball the pass is immediately returned to him and he is often marked by 4-5 players.   If Argentina is to rise from this slump they have to play as a team and take responsibility, the fact that they don’t is made worse because of the fact that players are in fact more than capable of helping but choose not to.  Even though I am highly critical of Scaloni I think this is something they are trying to address. Some even say Messi is even a curse but I strongly disagree. Football is a team sport and no one has ever won anything by themselves.

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